Monthly Archives: June 2011
God has done a miracle!
This past week at Jr. High summer camp, God did an incredible miracle. I shared with my church the story of this miracle in the main service last Sunday, so for the details of the story I will let you hear it straight from my mouth:
The Scriptures I used in this message are:
2 Timothy 3:4-5
1 Timothy 4:12
There are two things that God has re-iterated in my mind and heart since this miracle happened.
1. I must now do what I have been telling students to do for years
I have said to students literally hundreds of times “no one can ever argue with your changed life.” I realize that some people are not going to believe that what we experienced at camp was real. but that decision by them does not change what happened or how real it was. This was the most real thing I have ever experienced in my life.
2. I am seeing what I wrote in my book actually happen
I wrote in my book that youth ministry will lead the way in changing the entire church. Not only did God do this miracle through an 8th grade boy, but during the response time on Sunday I saw teenagers who were at camp praying over adults as they accepted Christ and/or rededicated their lives to Christ. God has begun changing our church and our youth are leading the way. I am still amazed as I watch this happen in front of me. Now I just need to live out what God led me to write.
There is something about teenagers that every youth worker needs to realize. This is going to happen to 100% of the students in every ministry. It is never a major surprise when it happens but often times it is tragic.
They get to old to attend youth programs.
The typical youth ministry does a pretty bad job of preparing teenagers for this, which is one of the major contributing factors to one of the most embarrassing statistics attached to youth ministry; the percentage of graduates that remain in the church. (I believe there are several contributing factors to this, not just this one)
What has been the typical response when this inevitable event occurs? If your church counts weekend attendance using more than 3 zeros you transition them on to the 18-24 year old program. If not, we either send them off to “big church” not expecting to ever see them again or we make them a volunteer leader in the youth ministry. Any of these, especially in smaller churches, have minimal rates of success (typically) and sometimes produce more problems.
Right now after celebrating another graduation season and taking a hard truthful look at our entire youth ministry I am wondering how we can do better. I have been working with teenagers for over a decade and my personal track record does not beat the average of how many of those former youth group members are actively living for and serving God. Here are a few hard questions I have asked myself.
Does relationship end at the same time as their program attendance?
The core message of the Bible is relationship; with God, with other Christians, and with the world. Even guys I have personally discipled for years I hardly ever (or never) talk to after graduation. Yes, there is a list of excuses, not to mention the list of new students that come in as the old ones graduate, but I am embarrassed to admit how bad I am at keeping in touch.
Ultimately it is not MY relationship with them that matters most, but their relationship with God. If all we have done in our four to six years with them is attaching their faith to our programs we are setting them up for failure. They need to know how to grow in their faith on their own, not just at church.
What is my real goal for them?
Is the goal of youth ministry behavior modification? For a lot of parents, church boards, and even youth workers it is. I realize how bad that sounds, but if we feel successful based on how many students are in the church’s graduating class, and how many of those are still virgins and/or don’t have a criminal record then it probably is.
Our goal for them needs to be spiritual transformation. Programs can certainly aid in that goal, but they are just a means to this goal, not the goal itself. A lot of what I see in the youth ministry world is program ideas. I need some more spiritual transformation ideas. I know how to entertain students, I am still trying to figure out more ways I can aid God in transforming them from His creation to His child. How can I help them move God from just savior to actually being their Lord? From trying so hard to blend into the world to sharing God’s heart and wanting to change the world?
Every student that I meet is going to get too old to attend our youth ministry. I don’t want to be a part of setting them up for failure any longer. Are you with me? What are some of your “spiritual transformation” ideas?
As I conclude this series of posts, I must first say I am not at all done working through this experience; I am not sure I will ever conclude that. To wrap this up I am going to answer a few of the most commonly asked questions people have asked.
Did the bike get as banged up as you did? Short answer: No.
The only lasting damage on the bike is a few scrapes and a zip tie as you can see in the picture. The only other damage was a broken clutch bridge, a $10 part.
Was it horrible having to wear that back brace? Yes
I was in the back brace for 10 weeks, 6 of which was 24 hours a day and the last month I could take it off to sleep. But I do not have any lasting back issues from it, thank you Lord! The worst part of wearing it was the pressure it put on my broken sternum, but there was really nothing they could do about that.
What exactly did they do to your arm?
I had a plate and 7 screws put into my arm. I was in a cast for a week after surgery then wore a brace on my arm for 5 weeks. My arm is what I have the most lasting pain with, in fact it hurts right now as I type (though my softball game earlier today might have something to do with that). I have heard people say that once you have metal in your body you will feel it the rest of your life, so far I believe that to be true.
Are you going to get rid of your motor cycle?
As of right now, no. I still want to ride. If I was wearing all my gear, out on a trail, and got hurt as bad as I did I would be done. But that is not what happened. I have ridden once since my accident, and the first 15 minutes was quite tension filled, but the longer I rode the more comfortable I got on the bike. I still want to ride, I still have fun doing it, and unless God changes my mind I am not selling the bike.
I realize this whole experience will always be a major part of my life, but until recently I had no idea how big. I of course wish I could have learned the spiritual lessons in some other way, but I do see how God has truly taken my stupidity (choosing to ride that fast through that lot) and used it for His glory. My hope is it has helped you in some way, but even if it hasn’t it certainly has helped me to love my God and my family more than ever before, and take my time here on earth a bit more seriously. On October 7th, 2010 I should have stood in front of Jesus, which I can’t wait to do, but I am not ready yet. I feel like I have so much more to accomplish with my life, with my family, with my church, and within youth ministry. May God continue to mold me, and you so we both can accomplish everything on this earth He wants us to.
These verses take on a whole new meaning for me now, and I will conclude this series with Paul’s words from Philippians 1:21-22 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
“I will make you lie down in green pastures.” Psalm 23:2
This was the phrase God whispered (then started to scream) to me in response to my question “Why?” I knew that I was not being fully obedient to what God had asked me to do, which I quickly remedied as I described in part 2. However, once my book manuscript was completed I realized this was not the only thing God wanted me to change.
The entire sentence in the 23rd Psalm is “He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” Yes, God had made me lie down; quite literally lie in a hospital bed, but what could possibly be “green” about this experience? Just as any near death or traumatic experience tends to do, this caused me to take a pretty honest and raw look at my life. My lack of writing was only a portion of what God wanted me to see, here are a few of the other things I have learned about myself.
1. How “loud” my life had become.
It is a pretty common thing in life, and especially youth ministry, to view busyness as a badge of honor. I did not realize how busy my life had become until everything came to a screeching halt that Thursday evening. I was not doing bad things, but between my young family, my church, my friends, and my hobbies my life was moving at mach 10. Quiet waters suddenly did describe my life and I quickly realized how much I liked it.
2. How complacent I had become in my faith.
Being a pastor means that almost no one asks how your faith journey is going, and very few people ever asked me (a few people did but I often just gave the token “good” in response). I think every Christian thinks they “give God everything” and I certainly thought I had. Again, I wasn’t doing anything bad with my life, but I had become very comfortable in my busy life, routine devotions, and continual church involvement to where I was not growing much in my own faith. The biggest problem with this was how comfortable I really was. I was living an incredibly blessed life and there was no reason to change anything (so I thought). My comfort had become a dead end rut and I had not even realized it.
3. That my soul did need restored.
God knew something needed to change for me even though I didn’t. Many times I have thought about what my life would be like today if I had never crashed, and I can honestly say I would rather be where I am right now instead. Being in the spiritual rut I had created was getting boring, and I was taking steps through selfish decisions to make it more exciting (like devoting a lot more time and money to dirt bikes). Even now as I am searching for a publisher for my book and tallying more and more rejections, God continues to show me how selfish of a life I was leading. I like to be in control, and I now see how much that has affected everything in my life including my faith.
I am still in the process of being transformed by God, and wrestling with how to ACTUALLY give God everything, but now I know God is making progress with me again. A book that has helped me quite a bit in putting this all in perspective is Maximum Faith by George Barna. If you have been a Christian for any length of time or are bored with your faith I highly suggest it. My hope is you don’t have to end up within an inch of your life being over like I did for God to get your attention.
If you are a Christian, even if you are a youth worker or pastor, how is YOUR faith journey going? I would love to hear your answer, and don’t send me a token “everything is good”!
I will do one more post to conclude this series including some pictures of my scraped up bike, my broken helmet, and my not broken anymore arm.
As I said in my previous post, I had a lot of questions to answer during my hospital stay. It seemed like the doctors and nurses asked me a million times what had happened and how I was feeling. I quickly grew tired of answering both of these questions; what happened was in my chart and the fact I wanted more medication should adequately and completely answer the later question.
Not only did I have to answer a lot of questions, but I had a few of my own. The biggest questions in my mind and heart were not directed toward any medical professional, but mainly to myself (how could you have done something this stupid?) and to God (Why?).
This two word question, God why, was anything but simple. In those two words, those 6 letters, was a mountain of emotion, confusion, distrust, hope, anger, faith… Those words do not even begin to describe everything I was feeling as I prayed those two words over and over again. As I laid in that bed talking with the stream of people that kept coming through the door, no one had any answers, at least not answers to my real questions. Hope and faith truly were a huge part of what I felt, because I knew that God had the answers I sought, the bigger question was would I hear his voice, and if I did would I accept his answer?
I did hear His voice, but not in any way I expected. An audible voice would have been nice, even a hand writing on the wall would be acceptable, whatever was fine with me as long as what I got was an actual answer, not just something that raised more questions.
As I prayed, and slept, and took more meds, and saw more people, and felt the enormous outpouring of love from so many people one distinct phrase constantly ran through my mind, “I will make you lie down in green pastures.” I had memorized the 23rd Psalm several years ago and this phrase had always stood out to me, but this didn’t really make much sense. At first I just credited the medication and tried to focus on other things, but it would not go away. “I will make you lie down in green pastures.”
Once I realized this was God trying to answer my question through this familiar scripture all it did was raise more questions. “Oh, so you made me lie down, so that means you caused me to crash.”
“No, you made the decision to ride that fast through that empty lot”
“Ok, I understand being the victim of my own stupidity, but why didn’t you protect me?”
“I did. You rode out of your garage with out your helmet on, I made you go back and get it”
“Then why am I in this hospital bed if you protected me?”
“Because you won’t be obedient if you didn’t end up in this bed.”
I wish my conversation with God was that quick and that precise, it wasn’t. Over these several months God has filled in some of those answers for me. But one thing I did get loud and clear before I ever left that hospital room—I was not being fully obedient to God. That conviction stung, I felt like I had given God a lot. I was a pastor, I had given him my whole life (so I thought), and I had genuinely felt close to Him. But I knew right away one thing I was not doing all the way; writing my book.
The amount of time between when my book idea went from scribbles on scratch paper to actual words typed in a computer and me lying in that hospital bed was about 9 months. At that point I had written what now in the final manuscript are 2 and ½ chapters. As soon as I was home and could sit up for more than a few moments I started writing. I finished the next 1 and ½ chapters literally typing with one hand as my broken left arm was elevated on a pillow. I finished the rough draft of my book 3 months after being discharged from the hospital (it is 9 chapters). I fully believe that if I had not crashed that day my book would still not be completed.
But, not diligently writing was not the only thing God was trying to get me to realize. I had focused on the “God making me lie down” part, and it definitely got my attention. But that is not the whole phrase God told me over and over again. “I will make you lie down in green pastures.” It was not until my book was completed that I began to understand what on earth could be “green” about this experience, but that will have to wait for part 3…